A voice without the face is still the same person…right?
Given that humans are highly visual creatures, and that a disproportionately large portion of the brain is devoted to processing images (Wolfe, 2001), it seems to make sense that including video in virtual conferences could dramatically improve communication between people. Interestingly enough, not all studies support this idea (Inkpen, Hegde, Czerwinkski & Zhang, 2010) and in many work situations, people often prefer going without video (Hirsh & Brokopp, 2005). Why this should be the case is a discussion we’ll have to save for later. For now, we want to look at the reported benefits of including video.
According to a 2010 study of 3-way discussions via computer conferencing, participants perceived significant differences in discussions they had with and without video–with the majority of participants giving “with video” a big thumbs up (Inkpen et al). Bear in mind that this means they had simultaneous video of the other two members of their discussion group, not just one person at a time, (some of the aforementioned studies of videoconferencing were set up so that meeting members only saw the presenting speaker, aka voice activated switching with is used by Microsoft Office Communicator and most hardware room systems such as Polycom and Tandberg). So this is what participants had to say about the benefits of including video versus audio alone:
1. “With video [it was] easier to stay engaged and track the conversation.” (97)
Save brain power to focus on *what* is being said instead of who’s saying it.
2. “Having eye-contact and seeing other people’s emotions made a huge difference and enhanced the conversation” (97)
Building rapport through eye-contact has always been an important point, beginning with ancient Greek and Roman oratory.
3. “Felt accountable for joining in” (97)
Make sure others are throwing their weight.
4. “No video…[i]t’s easier to think that pauses in the conversation mean you are not being paid attention to or that someone disagrees” (98)
Prevent avoidable misunderstandings and conflicts (which saves time and emotional energy).
5. “But I must admit that I had no email or web distractions.” (97)
Know that you’ve got the listener’s attention.
So a voice without a face just isn’t the same person–it’s less of the same person. A face can be a significant source of information for better communication.
Inkpen, K., Hegde, R., Czerwinski, M., Zhang, Z. (2010). Exploring spatialized audio & video for distributed conversations. Proceedings of CSCW 2010, Savannah, Georgia, 95-98.
Kirk, D., Sellen, A., Cao, X. (2010). Home video communication: mediating ‘closeness’. Proceedings of CSCW 2010, Savannah, Georgia, 135-144.
Wolfe, P. (2001). Brain Matters: Translating Research Into Classroom Practice. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).